Fore Long Island

Long Island golf courses and golfers mixed with a splash of PGA and other pro tours.

Phil comes out early to see the Big Three

Every one of the fabled Big Three was impressed. As they hit their honorary tee shots to begin the Masters, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player noticed that one of the many spectators out there to watch them was Phil Mickelson, wearing his champions green jacket—six hours before his own tee time.

        “I thought it was wonderful that he was out there,” said Palmer, the legend to whom Mickelson is sometimes compared for his interaction with fans.


     The whole point, though, was that the 7:40 a.m. tee time was an opportunity for the Masters and the golf public to honor three of the most legendary figures who ever have played the game.

      It was pointed out by a Masters official at the ensuing news conference that the three appeared in a combined 147 Masters, won 13 of them and finished either first or second 21 times. Augusta National chairman Billy Payne had kind words for each when he introduced them before their tee shots.

     About Palmer in particular, Payne said, “He inspired millions around the world to take up golf.” Palmer, Nicklaus and Player—who actually appeared together in a TV golf series called “The Big Three” during the 1960s—all spoke of how golf is ailing in terms of public participation. They offered various remedies, such as making it more affordable, making the golf ball less explosive and supporting youth programs.

       But probably what golf can use most of all is the display of greatness, dignity, humility and fun that the Big Three always have shown. That didn’t stop yesterday.

       All three hit drives right down the middle. As to which one was longest, Nicklaus said, “I don’t think any of us can see that far.” That from a man who reflected on playing here as a young amateur, staying in the Crow’s Nest atop the clubhouse and having to pay $1 for breakfast and lunch, $2 for a steak dinner.

       The three agreed that it was their duty to keep being ambassadors, and to promote the game. Player referred to a spirit of gratitude that is incumbent on people to whom much has been given. They realized they were extending a noble tradition at Augusta.

      Player recalled having been a young Masters participant and having seen Jock Hutchison start the proceedings, the way Mickelson watched the Big Three. Nicklaus, sitting between his two buddies, recalled his memory of seeing an honorary starter. “For me, it was a long time ago,” he said. “I saw Arnold Palmer hit one.”

Tags: Augusta National , Masters , Jack Nicklaus , Arnold Palmer , Gary Player , Phil Mickelson

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